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Charges Expected in Hit-And-Run

Investigation drags in late '05 death of Chiapas, Mexico, native

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The case seemed clear-cut: A guy with booze in his system strikes and kills a pedestrian, flees the scene and later turns himself in to the police. But more than a month after Roberto Rodriguez Perez died while crossing Central Avenue, charges have yet to be filed in his death.

That could change within two weeks, said Detective Bob Koll of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Koll said Friday he's finishing the investigation now and expects the hit-and-run case to reach the district attorney's office soon.

Here are the facts so far, according to a police report: On Dec. 11, Laurence Arthur Paul was driving east on Central Avenue when Roberto Rodriguez Perez stepped into the path of Paul's 1991 Ford. Rodriguez Perez, 34, died at the scene. Paul, whom police suspect had been drinking, fled before turning himself in to authorities later.

Paul, 49, declined to comment when CL approached him at his home. He directed questions to attorney Jim Gronquist, who did not return a call seeking comment before press time. Rafael Prieto Zartha, editor of area Spanish-language newspaper Mi Gente, described Rodriguez Perez as a hard worker from the Chiapas region of Mexico. "It was very hard for the family to bring back his remains to Mexico, because really, they weren't rich," said Prieto Zartha. "They were poor."

The newspaper editor said he suspects charges would have been filed sooner were the driver Hispanic and the victim Anglo. Prieto Zartha, like many Hispanics, felt mainstream media coverage illustrated a double standard in how drunk-driving deaths are viewed. After Scott Gardner, a Mount Holly teacher, was killed in a July car crash involving an illegal immigrant whom police say was drunk, vigils lamented his death, and US Rep. Sue Myrick jumped on the immigration reform cause. But when Robinson Lora, 22, and Rodriguez Perez were killed in drunk driving incidents, no similar cry ensued.

Koll said the DA's office told him to finish the investigation after the beginning of 2006. On Friday, he was sifting through transcripts. "There are a number of contributing factors on both sides," Koll said. He couldn't elaborate, because the case is pending. But he said he expects Paul probably will at least serve jail time for felony hit-and-run.

Prieto Zartha said he understands Paul is remorseful. "The guy did call the police by himself," he said, adding that he wants justice, not vengeance. "I believe anyone can make a mistake."

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